Richard R. Burgess, Seapower Magazine
19 November 2015
ARLINGTON, VA. — The Navy Department’s top civilian who oversees the development of unmanned systems said much work is yet to be done in developing autonomous systems and that those systems will not diminish the importance of people.
“Despite the ample research that has been done, and despite the claims of some, autonomy is not a solved problem,” Frank L. Kelley Jr., the Navy’s first deputy assistant secretary of the Navy (DASN) for Unmanned Systems, said Nov. 19 before the House Armed Services emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee. “There is much work to be done before we can realize our vision of a fully integrated manned and unmanned force. Autonomy still provides a host of unique challenges. Furthermore, autonomy alone will not ensure a secure America.
“We must understand the limits of autonomy and in so doing come to more fully appreciate the advantages of being human,” Kelley said. “This way we will be able to build an effective team relationship between people and autonomous systems. The development of trust within this team will be critical to the success of all of our missions.
“Unmanned and autonomous systems are going to transform the future of how we operate as a Navy and as a military,” he said. “However, unmanned technology will not diminish the importance of our most fundamental asset: our people. Instead, unmanned and autonomous systems which allow us to exceed human limitations will be used as powerful force multipliers across our fleet,” he said.
“Using autonomous systems in roles for which machines are best suited allows us to strategically employ Sailors and Marines for roles in which people are best suited. Innovations in autonomy need to be nurtured and introduced in a manner which will gain the trust of our Sailors and Marines and the public we are here to protect. Realizing the vision of a fully integrated manned and unmanned naval force will depend as much on significant military cultural evolution as on a technology innovation. We had to change the way we think to evolve the way we fight,” Kelley added.
In September, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus established Kelley’s DASN position and also a resource sponsor in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Code N99, the latter headed by RADM Robert Girrier, “so that all aspects of unmanned [systems] in all domains would be coordinated and championed,” Kelley said.
Kelley praised the ground-breaking research work of the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Laboratory in advancing unmanned systems technology.
“We have a moral imperative to equip our Sailors and Marines with the best capabilities to do their missions,” he said. “However, we also have amoral imperative to ensure that in addition to technological innovation, we develop an ethical, legal and policy framework for how we will employ unmanned and autonomous systems. We also recognize that we have to be able to robustly defend against adversaries that do not play by our rules.”